How is the gender wage gap calculated?

I’ve tried Googling this but it’s such a broad topic and there’s so much conflicting information out there that I don’t know where to start. Is it calculated on lifetime earnings? Does it take different retirement ages into account? Does it take promotion prospects and maternity leave into account? Are members of one gender statistically more likely to switch careers? Are starting wages offered to new employees higher for men than women? If so, in which sectors does this apply? It’s all terribly confusing and all I know is that the women I work with get the same money I do. If anyone could explain how the gender pay gap is worked out I’d appreciate it.

Cecil says.

It’s calculated in a variety of ways. One simplistic way is to look at average earnings of all women and all men, and a more sophisticated way builds a model of earnings that also accommodates differences like pregnancy leave, career choice, and the like so that it can examine the gap strictly attributable to gender per se. These could be earnings per time or per lifetime.

There remains a gap due to gender if you separately account for all the other causes people have come up with, though it is much smaller than the gap based on overall averages only. Various other studies, like the ones that find written content is judged more or less valuable depending on what gender the reader believes the writer is, are consistent with the idea that women wind up getting less pay for the same job.

SDMB thread from 2012.

It’s calculated in whatever way most closely conforms to the political biases of the person doing the calculation. There are so many confounding factors that it’s basically impossible to control for all of them.

If you look at the group of men and the group of women, you’ll see that they are employed differently. Some of this is for obvious reasons, as men can’t get pregnant and women can. Some of it for slightly less obvious reasons, like women preferring to stay home with the kids in much larger numbers than men. Some of it is for even harder to fathom reasons, like more men wanting to be engineers and more women psychologists. As such, if you compare the groups the results will be very different, and you wouldn’t be able to pinpoint a specific reason. On the other hand, if you find groups of men and women that have been doing the same jobs for the same amount of time with the same qualifications, the difference will be a lot smaller. But if there’s still a difference, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there’s discrimination going on.

Not necessarily. There are a lot of other factors that can come into play. For example, it isn’t just a question of staying home completely or taking maternity leave. Lots of jobs offer things like flex time for some or all employees. That is a good fit for many people but it is a benefit that may make it harder for anyone taking advantage of that benefit to get other perks like increased pay or promotions. If more women than men take the flex-time option, that can skew the results even though both are getting what they asked for. The same can be said for things like willingness to travel and lots of other things.

That isn’t sex discrimination in the true sense. It would apply to anyone that chooses one set of priorities over another but it can skew the numbers if one group picks one option disproportionately over another. There isn’t a good solution for that. I think that anyone that is willing to work 50 hours a week and take work calls nights and weekends should get paid more than the person who chooses to work a straight 8 - 4 pm shift because they have other priorities.

But shouldn’t people who are crazy enough to accept work calls outside work time be protected from themselves? I gather this is relatively common in the US corporate world but it’s no way to live.

When I talked about matched groups of men and women that have the same qualifications and been doing the same job for the same amount of time obviously that would also have to include time/travel restrictions.

Ironically if people have more freedom to choose their work/life balance, this can easily result in less gender balanced outcomes. So what’s better? Everyone must work the same hours and makes the same, or some people work less but then have fewer career prospects and earn less per hour?

There are many jobs where this is an inherent part of the job. If a pipe bursts in someone’s home, they need a plumber right now, not in 12 hours when one will start their shift. Now, obviously, a plumber is going to charge more for a 2AM emergency repair than for a scheduled sink installation, but then you get the question of whether the extra money is worth the inconvenience, and different people will make different decisions on that point.

Another bias: Women tend to ask for raises less often than men do. If an employer starts a woman and a man at entry level in the same job at the same pay, and then gives raises whenever an employee asks for them, he’s treating the sexes equally… but the employee who asks for raises more often is going to end up getting paid more. It’s not the boss’s fault that the woman didn’t ask.

OK, now suppose we try to control for that, too, and we look at men and women doing the same job for the same amount of time, and who have asked for the same number of raises. But not all requests for raises are created equal: If someone asks for a raise after the third week on the job, they’re not going to get it, regardless of their gender… but such a request will drive up the statistic. Which means that you’d really need to control for how often employees ask for justified raises, and I have no idea how you tell if a request is justified.

So what if pipes keep bursting ever 2 hours for a week straight? Just work 168 hours in a row?

Indeed. And, in particular, be sure to not take account that mothers returning to the workforce have not just less experience, contacts and knowledge than males they first started work with, but have actually less knoweledge than they had when they left work to have the child/ren.

It seems none of that is relevant to their workplace worth, and they should earn the same as non-mothers.

And, no, it is not a question of them being ‘penalised’ any more than men are penalised by not being able to take a break of several years from work.

Presumably there will be more than one plumber available. In fact, when I had storm damage to my house at 2 in the morning, I had to call half a dozen places before I found one that would come out late at night. Half were busy, half didn’t work evenings.

Good point.

There are really two things in play here.

  1. Choice. Women commonly take a lot of time off from work to stay at home to take care of children, and also gravitate toward careers that are historically not as well paying.
  2. Outright discrimination. This is where you have two candidates that have equal education, experience, and skills but the employer intentionally pays the man more.

The second case is really where the moral blame falls on the employer. For the first case, the person who is allegedly being “discriminated” against bears some of the responsibility. Perhaps there is some societal bias that is keeping certain career choices as low-paying. Perhaps. But choosing to enter a career path knowing that it will likely lead to a low-paying job is one’s own choice, and one waives the right to demand the pay level of a rocket scientist or brain surgeon. If you want to get paid like a brain surgeon, go become a brain surgeon.

I’ll have to look for the CNN Money article, but, it was from about 12 years ago. In it, a woman who was a C-level executive went over the perceived wage gap at the time. The reason she wrote the article was that there was some motion to have the government intervene in all C-level appointments at a company.

In a nut shell, the real wage gap was less than 5%. She noted errors such as lumping PT and FT and averaging out between them, time in service, time at a given company, etc. I will try and find it and I even referenced this article on the SDMB albeit it was at least one if not two incarnations ago. This thread seems to pop-up from time-to-time.

There are some social pressures at play here, men to provide stability to the family and women to raise. Staying at a company over a longer period of time will, well it used too, result in higher earnings. With a women getting out of the work force to raise the family, and then starting up again will not have the same pay of someone with continuous service. Etc. etc.

Flex-time and all that is a great little sound-bite but is heavily restricted, it sucks as its real hard to arrange to work late for 9 days to get that one day off. It could be worth it if you could take a four-day but they almost always prefer you to get the 80 hours in before taking that day off. As a contractor, I do not have a provision for this as my customer is paying for my cube space. I legally can not work from home, that’d be fraud. :eek: Government employees can do this, if they are eligible, once again it’s a great benefit sound-bite but not all get it. You usually have to be off of probation (service of more than three years) and I have not met any guvvie that was not at least a GS-12 who got that. Once exception, a friend who was a GS-9 with about two years had his third child, they let him work from home for the first month.

Using raw uncorrected data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (, it appears that, on average, 16-24 y.o. women earn 90% as men, 25-34 y.o. women earn 89% as much as men, 35-44 y.o. women earn 82% as much as men, and 45-54 y.o. women earn 77% as much as men.


A personal anecdote- I worked for a Government agency, and yes the men earned more than the women (we all got together to calculate this). But the men had on the average 5 more years of time in grade, and more men had a higher degree (my nearly now-useless Masters got me a nice pay bump). Thus, even here, same work got unequal pay, even though the pay system was completely gender blind.

Dont get me wrong- gender pay inequality does still exist. It’s just no longer the HUGE problem it once was. It can still be significant in some industries, however.